MICHAEL KEATING. Covid-19: What we need to know.

An international inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 virus misses the main point: what the world really needs is an inquiry into the effectiveness of the response.

Previous articles posted here by former diplomats have pointed out the crude stupidity of Australia’s call for an international inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. The timing and failure by the Australian Government to consult in advance of announcing its proposed inquiry, meant that it was naturally assumed that Australia was acting as the Trump Government’s willing catspaw.

Furthermore, the reality is that despite the efforts of the American administration to confuse the issue we probably know the origins of Covid-19. There does not seem to be any reason to doubt that it originated in a wildlife wet market in Wuhan.

Instead, what in due course, we really need an inquiry into, is how the world has managed its response to Covid-19.

Issues for such an inquiry would include:

  • The timing and effectiveness with which China notified the rest of the world of the existence of the virus
  • The effectiveness of the role played by the WHO in alerting countries and coordinating and facilitating their responses
  • Why some countries have succeeded much better than others in suppressing the virus, and what lessons can be gained from their different experiences about how to better respond to future pandemics of this kind.
  • What trade-off, if any, has there been between each country’s approach to stemming the spread of the virus and the impact on economic activity and unemployment.
  • How well nations are collaborating in the search for a vaccine, and the arrangements for sharing access to that vaccine when it becomes available.

Frankly, given Australia’s evident success in limiting the spread of the virus, one would expect Australia’s prestige to be enhanced by such an inquiry. The downside, however, is that this proposal is unlikely to get much US support as it would most likely damage the Trump Government’s reputation and Trump’s re-election prospects.

But such an inquiry would be of enormous value in helping all countries to respond to future pandemics.

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Michael Keating is a former Secretary of the Departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Finance and Employment, and Industrial Relations.  He is presently a visiting fellow at the Australian National University. 

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